Words & Photos By Nathan Allen
As I sat on the beach in Caramoan, I gazed across the water to the island of Catanduanes...I wasn't sure how I would get there, but I knew I had to explore it. Suddenly, I noticed some tourists relaxing nearby. I started up a conversation with them, and realized that they had come all the way from Canada.
After a while, I learned that after their vacation in Caramoan, they were taking a speedboat across the water to Catanduanes. Not only that, but amazingly, they knew a friend of mine from Manila - she grew up in Catanduanes! Next thing you know, I'm hitching a ride on a thrilling speedboat.
I will never forget the motorbike trip I took around the "enchanted" island of Siquijor in 2013.
Well, I was excited about recreating that trip on the rugged island of Catanduanes. Photo adventures like these are a big part of why I came to the Philippines in the first place!
What I didn't realize is that this island is much, much bigger than Siquijor. My 2 day trip ended up taking 5, and I'll never forget it!
A part of the Bicol region in the eastern Philippines, Catanduanes used to be part of Albay, and is said to be named after the "tandu" or giant click beetles that can be found flying around the area at night.
I put my feelers out to my friends and managed to locate a motorbike I could borrow on arrival. Catanduanes is rugged; there are still remote sections with no paved roads, and for me, it made my journey that much more exciting. My trip began in San Andres...
Sto. Domingo River is also known as Pajo River, and is a place where you can find floating huts and local children swimming in the fresh water. The water was awarded cleanest in Bicol back in 1999. I snapped this photo from a bridge that crosses over the river.
You don't hear much about the waterfalls of Catanduanes, but when I looked at the tourist map, I could see that they were EVERYWHERE! I wanted to visit all of them, but there really were too many.
Hicming Falls isn't too well known, but it was quite impressive! You can reach it via a short hike from the village of Hicming, near Sto. Domingo.
Trike drivers may be able to take you there. This brief, beautiful hike up a scenic creek bed will reward you with a gushing, 3-tier waterfall at the end.
There are many smaller falls and tranquil pools on the way up...This really was one of my favorite waterfalls in Catanduanes, and I'm surprised it's not more publicized.
I guess the lack of crowds and development is what I liked most about it, though. For now, hopefully these falls can remain our little secret...
Just off the highway is impressive Luyang Cave (see photo). This vast, limestone cave is quite accessible, and fascinating to explore. You can bring your own flashlight and do a DIY walkthrough tour, but just be careful, because the path can be very slippery.
There is a tragic story attached to Luyang Cave. Reportedly, all the locals hid in the cave when the Moro invaders arrived. They would carefully send a woman out to fetch water when needed, but eventually her luck ran out. She was spotted returning to the cave, and she gave away their hiding spot.
Knowing that they would all meet their demise at the hands of the Moros, the locals quickly piled up sticks and branches at the entrance to the cave.
When they realized that wasn't enough to protect themselves, as a last resort, they lit the branches on fire...hoping that the flames would deter the pirates.
Sadly, the wind changed directions, and filled their cave with thick, black smoke. They could not breathe, and there were no survivors.
Mamangal Beach, can be found in barangay Balite, Virac. It's one of the nicest beaches I came across in Catanduanes. However, to be honest, I was more focused on waterfalls than beaches, so keep that in mind:) Roads are a bit rough to get here, and there is an entry fee upon arrival. Many thanks to Che and the Gurrobat family for the assistance getting here! Che's blog is called Backpacking Pilipinas.
From my research, some other popular beaches are Twin Rocks Resort Beach, Marilima Beach, Batag Beach...all within Virac. Sakahon Beach is nice as well, in Bato.
For a real off-the-beaten-path Catanduanes adventure (and the most stunning beach of all), check my Palumbanes Island Blog.
I went exactly where they told me to and explored for over an hour. Unfortunately there wasn't much to see. After being protected for 20 years, there should be much more coral regrowth here. It's mostly dead still, and there aren't a whole lot of fish. Either people are sneaking in to do dynamite / cyanide fishing still, or somehow there are other environmental factors at work.
The best part of Agojo for me was actually the fascinating mangrove trees, as you can see pictured here..
I was told that Agojo was the best place to snorkel and see corals in Catanduanes...sadly, this was not my experience. The bantay dagat (security guards for the marine life) were not able to take me out in the boat, because it was broken. However, they told me I could just swim out a few hundred yards in the shallow water to go snorkeling. Btw, if you are curious, I took these photos with my TG4 underwater camera.
Note: The photo of this beautiful coral reef was actually taken in Catanduanes also, but it was taken north of Agojo, at a random (unprotected) spot I pulled my motorbike over and decided to explore.
I really was snorkeling in the middle of nowhere, and I guess that explains why there were still corals and fish.
I hope the Local Government Units will look into this, because Catanduanes has some beautiful corals and marine life that could really draw tourists if preserved and protected.
In the far northwest part of the island, you can find the rolling green hills and vistas of Hiyop Point. Below are more various photos from my ride along the west side of the island.
Carangyan Resort is near here, but it's a bit pricey for being so provincial. The couple who runs it is very nice, and the food is quite good, though. It might be worth stopping by for lunch, if nothing else.
One thing I loved seeing around Catanduanes was all the colorful buildings and churches...this pink church was a first for me!
I took a 2-week vacation and never came home. "Like" my page to see how I did it! - Nathan
Catanduanes is known for its production of Tiger Grass, or Sugbo, as it is known locally. It's used to make brooms. Also produced here is the strong natural fiber called Abaca, (Manila Hemp).
Catanduanes was most memorable to me because of the hospitality of the people I met along the way. Known as "The Happy Island", I felt it from the moment I arrived.
Due to the plenty of roadside photo breaks and rough roads, my trip took longer than expected, and I was forced to spend an unplanned night in barangay Tokio, Pandan. A local introduced me to the barangay captain, a very nice lady by the name of Mrs. Bernacer.
After arranging a local guide to bring me to the nearby waterfall for a swim (see above), Mrs. Bernacer was so kind to prepare a dinner for me. Her family even made room in their home, so that I could rest before continuing my journey in the morning! Incredibly hospitable, and I appreciated it.
I also stopped at the School of Fisheries in Caramoran. I met many friendly people there.
What an unexpected surprise! There are some fascinating coral formations underwater there in Soboc. I was so happy to see that much of it has been preserved.
I saw quite a few clownfish, a lionfish, and a variety of other marine life such as colorful clams and urchins. Remember to bring your own snorkel, mask, and fins! As always, I used my Olympus TG-4 underwater camera.
(Click photos for more Soboc snorkeling info)
In order: Colorful clam and beautiful sea urchin
Big thanks to my local guide Mathew Barceta, and also to a local mechanic - kuya Rey. My motorbike was having problems when I arrived, and he quickly repaired it for only the cost of parts! Kuya Rey and the rest of the guys there were very kind. I do hope to return to Catanduanes someday and repay their kindness.
This was particularly beautiful stretch of the trip. I loved seeing the town marker they put up in Bagamanok - reminiscent of the Holywood sign:) I also came across a beautiful cemetery where I stopped and took some photos. The weather was just perfect.
I snapped this photo of a few carabaos (water buffaloes) cooling off in a creek.
If you're going north to Viga from Virac (via the central route), check out Cathy's Spring Resort along the way.
There is a famous rock formation here near the beach. It's called "Boto ni Kurakog", which translates to "Kurakog's penis". Yes, you read that correctly.
Legend says that a sleeping giant on the beach was washed out to sea. Now he rests underwater on his back, with 5 meters of his...ummm..."manhood" rising up out of the water. Catanduanes...the "happy island" indeed. Haha.
Nahulugan Falls is a great place to take pictures, and very much worth the visit! You can take a trike all the way there, unlike Hicming Falls, where you have to hike a bit.
Nahulugan is in the town of Gigmoto, where I found a lot of really good people.
First, I stopped to leave my things at the local police department, because I thought I needed to hike to get to the falls, and my bag is quite heavy.
The officers were very friendly, and I really got the sense that I could trust them. I was right!
Unfortunately, on the way to the falls, my motorbike broke down once again. I was far from any ATM, and I wasn't sure what to do.
Eventually a very nice man named Manny came to my aid, and not only took me to Nahulugan Falls, but also helped me get my motorbike repaired afterward...without asking for anything in return.
Kuya Manny and family, if you're reading this, thanks for helping me in my time of need! Proving yet again that Catanduanes really is the "happy" and friendly island...
Further south in Baras, I came across Balacay Point. Here you can find iconic, sweeping views of the coastline and small islands of Catanduanes & Pacific Ocean. Just be careful on the rocky dirt road going up...it was quite rough when I was there...the vista at the top is worth it, though!
Catanduanes is home to Bicol's most famous surf spot, known as Puraran. This is a great place to learn, or just relax and enjoy the beach. I didn't try surfing here, but I hope to learn soon! Balacay Point is only a few kilometers from here, and you can see Puraran Beach from the viewpoint.
St. John the Baptist Church can be found in the town of Bato. It is also known as "Bato Church". Can you believe it was originally built from wood in the late 1500s? Rebuilding with stone materials began in 1830. The church has withstood the test of time ever since.
Nearby Maribina Falls (also in Bato) is the most well known and accessible of all the waterfalls on the island.
This is a great place to swim, relax, or have a picnic.
This mulit-tiered waterfall gets its name from the 2 surrounding neighborhoods, or barangays:
The combination of Marinawa and Binanwahan = "Maribina".
Virac Cathedral is also known as "the Roman Catholic Diocese of Virac".
It is located right in the heart of Virac, and is one of the most prominent landmarks.
Virac Cathedral is only a few decades old, but it was built over an older parish.
Virac is the largest city and capital of Catanduanes. I loved the vibrant energy here.
On a Friday night, I wandered over to the plaza and found many kids practicing everything from skateboarding, to dance routines, to their marching band songs.
I'm glad the city is supportive of this.
I didn't get to try many restaurants in Virac, but I did find a pizza place that I LOVED! It's called "Carrie's Pizza", and it really is a great value. The pizza was quite good for the price, and the service can't be beat. Check it out!
Marem Pension House, Virac - A beautiful and very affordable place to stay. It has been operating for years, and is quite well maintained. You can explore options at Marem Pension House HERE
Rackdell Inn, Virac - Also good for the budget-minded, and close to Jollibee! Haha. +63 908 885 0569
Catanduanes Midtown Inn (Virac) - For a bit more money...you can take a big step up with the Midtown Inn. Still a great value! You can explore options at Catanduanes Midtown Inn HERE
Pacific Surfer’s Paradise Beach Resort, Puraran - This was my favorite option in Puraran. Service was great + accommodations / food were a good value. You can explore options at Pacific Surfer’s Paradise Beach Resort HERE
More options HERE
The island can be reached by direct flight to from Manila to Virac, or overnight bus to Tabaco Port, where you can catch a 3 hour ferry to Virac. Once there, you should be able to take a bus to Puraran and other destinations. If not, you may have to rent a trike or van for the whole day, and it could be quite pricey.
Big thanks to Carmel Bonifacio and the Catanduanes tourism office in Virac! The tourism brochures I was provided with were well-designed, very professional, and quite useful. The museum above the office is worth seeing, too! Many thanks to Mayleine Olfindo, and all the good, humble people of "The Happy Island"! Thanks for reminding me why I fell in love with the Philippines in the first place.
Hope you enjoyed my photos & adventure.
- Nathan Allen
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